EPA Issues New Standard Restricting Ozone Emissions

Oct 1, 2015
Originally published on October 2, 2015 5:40 am
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New rules for clean air have neighbors blaming each other - neighboring states, that is. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is toughening regulations on ground-level ozone. These rules are controversial. And since states have to implement them, we're going to talk now with public radio reporters in two states that border each other - Mose Buchele from member station KUT in Austin is on the line. Hi there.


SHAPIRO: And also on the line, we've got Joe Wertz from StateImpact Oklahoma. How you doing?

JOE WERTZ, BYLINE: How are you doing, Ari? Thanks for having us today.

SHAPIRO: All right, Joe, let's start with you. You are at an ozone monitoring station near Edmond, Okla. Describe what the problem is that the EPA is trying to fix with these new rules.

WERTZ: Right. So the EPA wants to fix ground-level ozone, and we all pretty much know that as the biggest component of smog. And smog is bad for the lungs and eyes. Kids and old people are especially vulnerable. So to crack down on this, the EPA has lowered its standard. It has issued a tighter number - a smaller number for the amount of acceptable ozone that states can have, and that new number came out today.

SHAPIRO: Well, where does this ozone from? What's the source of the problem?

WERTZ: Well, the source of the problem is sort of the classic air pollution sources - right? - so vehicles, factories, power plants, those types of things. But ozone is really kind of like an equation here. You get those classic pollution compounds plus heat and sun, and that's how you get ozone.

Right now, I am standing near an air monitoring station. It's a kind of cool, drizzly day here in Oklahoma, and that's good for the ozone equation. If we're balancing out that equation, we get less heat and sun today here in Oklahoma, so we get less ozone.

SHAPIRO: Of course, air travels, and that's one reason we've also got reporter Mose Buchele on the line with member station KUT in Austin. Mose, you are at a truck stop in Texas. Texas has a lot of industry. Is the pollution from your state crossing over the border to Oklahoma, where Joe is?

BUCHELE: If only it were that simple, then this would be a lot easier. You know, in a lot of states, we hear a lot of finger pointing about where the source of the pollution is coming from. And I've heard that in Oklahoma, you know, they might worry that Texas is bringing ozone over there. Here in Texas, people will blame other states. Some people blame Mexico, agricultural burning, offshore oil rigs. So the reality is that we're all creating this stuff. And yes, it does blow into other jurisdictions, to other states, other cities.

SHAPIRO: OK, so if pollution crosses boundaries, how do you have this ruled that states have to implement individually?

BUCHELE: Well, basically, what they're being asked to do is tinker with the margin of ozone that is created on site. So I'm standing at a truck stop here outside of Austin. A lot of our ozone that's created here in the region comes from traffic, comes from truck fleets, cars. And so when we look to reduce the stuff we're creating, we try to upgrade truck fleets, get better, less-polluting cars on the road. So that's one of the things that jurisdictions will be looking at as they try to reach these new goals.

SHAPIRO: Well, Mose, if the trucks don't get off the road, if the factories keep spewing pollution, if a state is out of compliance, what does that mean?

BUCHELE: And that's what a lot of officials are worried about - state officials. It can be a big hit to local economies. For one thing, it becomes much more difficult to get funding and approval for road projects, transportation projects. And in a lot of the country, traffic is a paramount concern. They want more roads - in Texas, at least. For another thing, it can limit the amount of new industry that goes in. Any industry that might cause more ozone pollution - well, that's going to be a lot harder to build if you're already out of compliance.

SHAPIRO: Joe, back in Oklahoma, I said these are controversial rules. What kind of a reaction are we seeing from the states?

WERTZ: Well, so when the EPA lowers these standards, you know, states can be out of compliance. And in Oklahoma, officials here are saying what that does is it triggers a complicated and expensive process by which state environmental regulators have to track down an inventory ozone sources and come up with a plan on how they can fix it. And for their part, officials in Oklahoma say they can't always do anything about it. They benefit from things like better fuel standards for cars, but they're not always in control of things like the weather and things like pollution that blows in. And Oklahoma officials do blame, in some part, Texas for some of their air pollution problems.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Joe Wertz in Oklahoma and also Mose Buchele in Texas. Thanks to both of you.

BUCHELE: Thanks, Ari.

WERTZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.